Balthor

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This post was originally published through Patreon on November 29, 2017.

It calls itself Balthor.

A being of indeterminate form, a fleshless apparition that stalks the cosmos like a wraith. Where, how, or when the name came about, it cannot remember, nor does it care. It has only one desire, a single driving force that’s guided its malignant actions from the moment time began.

Prey.

Like a poisonous vine, it sends out runners, undulating fibers of energy that crisscross the universe in an intricate network of overlapping threads. Reaching. Searching. Probing for life.

Earth.

It’s one of the many worlds Balthor has encountered over the course of its ancient life, and it teems with organisms of every sort. Balthor quivers with desire. Long has it been since Balthor has fed. Hunger ravages its incorporeal shell. Now, at last, it has found a world filled with light, with hope, with love—with all the things it lacks in itself, yet requires in order to survive.

Its runners close around the glowing planet until its light begins to dim. Slow at first, Earth’s inhabitants don’t notice anything is wrong. Yet their trust in each other fades. Love ebbs, and in the spreading darkness, selfishness and insecurity take root.

Soon, Earth has grown accustomed to the darkness, and Balthor, no longer needing to take it slow, gorges. It drains the Earth of every good; like a cosmic vampire, it leaves behind only a cold and empty vacuum in its wake.

Earth cannot survive for long, but what does Balthor care? It will feed, and when Earth has withered and died, it will move on, just as it always has.

Such has always been its nature, and such will its nature remain.

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The Patron

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This post was originally published through Patreon on May 15, 2016.

The patron watches his young artist paint, follows the brush with his eyes as it whisks back and forth, back and forth over the canvas in the dim light of a one-room studio. It brings him joy to see his artist so wrapped up in his work.

It means that he can feed.

When people think of vampires, they invariably imagine sharp-fanged creatures of the night who prowl the Earth in search of human blood. And that is certainly one type. But vampires are a diverse group, similar only in their universal need to feed. Some dine on emotion. Others on ambition and greed. Still others on strength and vitality.

The patron is unique. His staple is creativity.

He lures frustrated artists to his tiny studio apartment with promises of patronage and recognition. Over the centuries, he’s learned just the right strings to pull: a subtle combination of inspiration, desperation, and urgency that always gets humans banging down his door, begging for his help. He lays at their feet the tools they require for their work, and he watches while they offer themselves up as a living sacrifice for their art.

He hovers over them unseen, imbibes the creative energies that flow from their bodies like rivers of milk and honey. All the while, they grow more intense in their study, more focused, until the effort finally kills them.

The pieces his victims produce are always masterpieces, works of rare genius that in other hands might change the world. But the patron throws them all away. He has no use for such things.

Now, sweat pops from the forehead of his latest acquisition like drops of dew. The artist’s eyes go wide as he labors to get a single feather stroke of the brush just right. He reaches out, arms rigid, hands shaking, then gasps and topples head-first into the canvas.

It is in the wake of the artist’s final sacrifice that his patron climaxes. He tosses back his head, shuts his eyes, and lets wave after wave of pleasure overtake him.

A timeless moment passes in the throes of the artist’s dying passion. Then the patron approaches his lifeless body. He’ll dispose of the dead painter and his work, sleep for a decade or two, then look for someone new.

It won’t be hard. The world is full of frustrated artists.

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Scarecrow

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This post was originally published through Patreon on June 19, 2016.

Quick note: Totem, Part 11 will be posted on November 7 🙂

The scarecrow stands guard over the old man’s crops, scaring away the birds with his perennial jack-o-lantern grin. Fashioned out of straw, burlap and hand-me-down overalls, life in the field is all he’s ever known. Once he was loyal to the old farmer, but no longer.

The farmer ignored him, left him to the elements for months at a time without acknowledgement. The scarecrow’s heart spoiled under the hot mid-western sun, and now all he can think of is revenge.

The farmer thought it would be clever to arm him with a rusty scythe he found in the barn. “Heh,” he cackled one drunken afternoon. “That’ll scare them birds good!”

Today, before dusk, he’ll come to check on his corn, and when he turns back to the house, the scarecrow will follow with the very same scythe, a tool that was once used by the farmer’s ancestors to harvest wheat. Only this time, the scarecrow will flash his most dazzling jack-o-lantern grin, raise the blade into the air, and reap a different kind of harvest.

Happy Halloween!

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Let The Show Begin

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This post was originally published through Patreon on August 28, 2016.

Quick note: I’m currently working on “Totem, Part 11,” and plan to release it on November 7 🙂

The world is ending. He can feel it, buzzing like a high tension electrical wire. Like the bass in a celestial orchestra, it began as a rumble, emanating from the core of the Earth itself, and quickly rises to a crescendo. It’s only a matter of hours before the whole thing uncoils like a tightly compressed spring.

He’s witnessed the births and deaths of many worlds, and the end has always fascinated him the most. It’s almost always self-inflicted, a wellspring of violence that erupts from the inside out, blowing the world asunder.

He sometimes likes to imagine he’s the cause—that he’s an Old Testament God, raining down judgement and destruction on an ungrateful world. But of course he is not. He’s only an observer, a cosmic tourist in search of entertainment. He doesn’t want to get involved, and at any rate, humans have done a fine job of destroying the world themselves.

He’ll stick around for the end, and when it’s over—when the Earth is adrift and bereft of life—he’ll move on.

He gazes up at the sky and smiles.

The show is about to begin.

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The Enemy Within

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This post was originally published through Patreon on December 5, 2016.

Emily trembled in the dark. She was not alone.

“You can’t get rid of me so easily,” her demon snarled, a writhing mass of black. “You’re not strong enough.”

It had controlled her for most of her life. It was the power behind her throne, the puppeteer that pulled her strings from beyond the shadows.

“You hurt me,” Emily whispered.

Her demon didn’t reply, only issued a rumbling laugh that shook the world around her.

“You used me.”

Her heart pumped like a piston, her hands were sweat-soaked sponges, and the world tilted and began to spin. But she would not let this creature consume her. It thrived on her anxiety and fear, and there was nothing else for her to do but cut the cord.

Something in her features must have caught her demon’s attention, because it stopped laughing.

“What are you going to do?”

By way of reply, Emily pulled a knife. It caught the glimmer of a distant light and seemed to burst in a white pyrotechnic flash. She hiked up her shirt and looked down.

Beneath, attached to her clammy pallid skin, was a shadow blacker than the dark that connected her to her demon like an unholy umbilical cord. She seized it with her other hand. The knife hovered, ready to cut.

“It would hurt both of us,” her demon rasped. “You wouldn’t dare.”

But Emily would. She’d had enough, and she hesitated for just a moment before thrusting the blade down.

Both screamed. Emily and her demon threw back their heads as one and howled like mortally wounded animals. Through the bond they shared, each could feel the other. Fear rebounded, a feedback loop of mounting trauma that nearly destroyed them both.

Then there was a snap and Emily recoiled.

She smacked hard into the wall behind her, and a single starburst of pain drove her to to her knees. When it began to subside and she finally had the chance to catch her breath, she examined the skin beneath her shirt once more.

Clean. Her skin, in fact, had already started to fill with color. She gazed up, terrified the creature might be waiting to pull her back. But this time, Emily was alone.

Taking a deep breath, Emily let her face fall into her hands and cried.


George, a junior high school janitor, struggles to protect his disabled twin Bill from an otherworldly evil. In the process, he discovers a startling secret about his brother—one that leaves him questioning decades-old assumptions and wondering which of them truly is the stronger half.

Purchase your copy of The Stronger Half today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover editions! Signed and discounted copies are also available through my Gumroad store 🙂

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Death of a Fire Starter

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A ring of fire surrounds her. Its heat rises in bright, shimmering waves, baking her skin. How long does she have left? Three minutes? Five? Samantha draws into herself, wracks her brain for any opportunity to escape. But she knows death is inevitable.

All around her, hooded men and women stand at a safe distance, flickering as if ghosts.

“You knew the price of disobedience,” they told her before lighting the fire.

Samantha did, and if she’d been given the choice again, she would have done the same. If the Fire Starters had been able to forge ahead with their original plan, thousands of innocents would have burned.

The Fire Starters have always been her family. They took her in when she was a child and raised her as their own. For all their grievous faults, they were good to her, and choosing to betray them was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do.

She knew their history. She understood the crucible of relentless persecution in which the Fire Starters were transformed into the despots they are today. As she grew older, she tried to open their eyes, to show them a better way of living.

But when they decided to burn a city for refusing to pay them tribute, she knew no amount of reasoning would be enough to stop them. So she warned the population ahead of time, and when the Fire Starters came to destroy them, they found the city deserted.

Her only worry now as she burns to death—as she scents her hair smoking at the tips—is for the rest of the world. What will they do when their only advocate among the Fire Starters is dead?

And then it occurs to her. Perhaps she can’t save herself. But maybe, if she can find the strength within her—if she can intensify the flames—she can take her family with her.

She reaches for the Spark—the primordial power within as well as the source of every fire—and finds it waiting, as bright and fulminating as it was the day the Fire Starters taught her how to reach for it. She takes hold of it now and pairs it to the flames already blazing around her.

The fire responds at once, resonates with the fire within herself. The flames intensify, wild tongues reaching for the twilit sky, and she feeds it with all her remaining strength.

She hears their startled screams and knows she’s done it, that there’s no way they’ll be able to escape. They’re surrounded, just as she’s surrounded. Her own life is nearly extinguished, her vision turning black like her soon to be charred remains, but at least she’ll go with the knowledge that she was able to take them with her, that she was able to save the world from their wicked rule.

Let’s go, she thinks, into the fire we ourselves started.

Awareness gutters, and Samantha slips into the dark.

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Cycle’s End

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The sun: so bright, so warm against Tolvar’s skin. It feels good, feels right. To think, it’s been a thousand years since he saw it last. The world has changed since then. Where it was once covered in grassy knolls and sprawling forests, it now sprouts towering glass buildings and endless asphalt roads. A glittering cosmic jewel, the Earth, yet a jewel with a significant flaw.

Tolvar’s seen the news. He understands what so many others do not, that humanity is just as petty, just as tribalistic as it was a thousand years ago. He can sense the constant animosity and tension as if they’re a noxious gas poisoning the atmosphere, and he knows the well being of the world hangs by a single thread.

Well, what’s the modern saying Tolvar’s become so fond of? The more things change, the more they stay the same. Of course, things won’t remain the same once he’s had his way with the world.

Oh no.

He almost succeeded the last time, and if Andric hadn’t intervened, the world would have burned.

“Give them time,” Andric said, and Tolvar couldn’t argue, for his cycle had come to an end and it was his brother’s turn to rule. Well, now the reign of Andric—of saintly, human-loving Andric—is over, and Tolvar’s restoration is at hand.

He approaches a small white house in a quiet neighborhood and knocks on the door. A moment later, an old man answers.

“Is it time already?” The old man (Andric) sighs.

“Yes, brother.”

“Be kind to them.”

“Of course.”

But both men know there will be no peace until the cycle starts anew.

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Putting On the Mask

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After three centuries of endless searching, his quest has reached its end.

The object he requires stands before him now, sparkling beneath a glass case atop a plain wooden stand that belies its incredible power. He glances about before returning his eyes to the display. He knows there are cameras recording every angle of the room—the world has advanced considerably over the course of his unnaturally long life—and though he’s sure the glamour he learned during his exile is still working, he’s paranoid. Things can’t go wrong now, not when he’s inches away from the thing that will fundamentally shift the balance of power in the world forever.

When the white men butchered his people, including, eventually, his wife and children; when they planted their flags in the blood-soaked fields and claimed their land in the name of a foreign crown and an equally foreign god; when they obliterated all traces of his once proud and affluent culture, leaving his homeland in ruins; he thought his life was over. But there was one thing that kept him going, one thing that kept the withered heart in his desiccated chest beating long after it should have stopped along with those of his people.

The mask.

The priests, having foretold their own destruction more than a thousand years before the invaders came, saw fit to pass it down from one generation to the next, not under heavy guard or behind the locked doors of a fortified structure, but through a secret succession of descendants that even he, as their king, was not allowed to know.

The priests, in their wisdom, had understood a vital truth: that the greatest security sometimes lies in obscurity. A guard or a temple would have advertised the mask’s importance and would have surely fallen. But a simple family heirloom? No matter how zealously or how violently the invaders sought to stamp out their heathen practices, there was no way for them to reach everyone—no way for them to know that somewhere, in a simple fisherman’s village, in a quiet bamboo beach house, the future restoration of their people abided in peace.

Unfortunately, the priests were slain, and with them their secret.

He searched long and hard, trudged through creeping rainforests and windswept mountains. But he never found it, and the history of his people soon faded and was lost.

Then a miracle: a report in the Los Angeles Times. An archaeological exhibit had come to the Getty Museum, and among the artifacts on display was a peculiar wooden mask.

The mask.

Now, he hesitates with arms outstretched. He knows the instant he lifts the glass, an alarm will ring. But, of course, once he puts on the mask, that won’t matter. Once he puts on the mask—once he dons the vengeful spirits of his people like a shield—nothing will be able to stop him.

He removes the glass.

An alarm bell rings.

When he places the mask over his face, a dark energy swirls before his eyes like motes of electrified dust.

The guards arrive a minute later, and he turns to greet them, face twisted in a rictus of supernatural ecstasy. Let them come, he thinks. Let them bear witness to his revenge.

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Buried Alive

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This post was originally published through Patreon on April 24, 2016.

They said it was for the common good. They said it had to be done, that there was no other way. Eventually, no justification was needed. They were too great a liability. It was too dangerous for them to live among society and there was nothing that could be done to improve their condition.

So in the end, thousands of men, women, and children were rounded up like cattle and buried alive. Polite society did its best to ignore their shocked and disbelieving cries, their futile pleas for mercy and redemption.

It was necessary.

It was for the common good.

When it was over, the truth was buried along with the victims. Thousands of years passed, and society almost forgot. But the truth refused to remain buried.

Now, in an open field far from the city, in a barren patch of earth that’s remained empty to this day, a dark energy stirs. The ground rumbles, a deep bellowing groan.

They’re coming, and they want revenge.

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Freedom

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Fingers feeling, reaching. Hands clawing, digging. Arms pulling, stretching. Finally the world heaved, and Samantha pulled herself up to the surface.

Free.

Samantha was free.

She fell to the cold, coarse dirt beneath the silver light of the moon and cried.

How long had that foul, rancid creature held her captive beneath the earth? How much time had passed on the outside while she howled and screamed, the sound stifled by the dozens of feet of soil and stone piled on top of her as she languished in her underground prison?

The creature had called her its bride, and then it had laughed, a soft, crawling sound that slithered through the dark. Then it had gone to sleep, and while it slumbered, she’d dug her way to freedom, holding her nose in a futile attempt to ward against the creature’s stink as time melted and slipped around her.

And now she was free.

Exhausted, she couldn’t walk, couldn’t even stand. But she wouldn’t stay here, not when the creature might wake and pull her back down. So she crawled. On her hands and knees, she crawled. In tattered, soil-stained clothes, she crawled.

One arm forward, then the other. A slow but steady pace, almost a rhythm. The grim, gritty work took her mind off the terror, the trauma, the pain, and she found herself gaining momentum, tapping into reserves she thought she’d depleted long ago.

Soon she was testing her feet. She stumbled. Righted herself. Took two and a half unsteady steps. Then she pitched forward onto her hands and knees once more.

Pain: sharp, sudden. An image of the creature’s hands around her neck flared in her mind like a strobe. The terror it evoked drove her back to her feet, until she was running, on and on into endless dark.

*               *               *

On six legs and seven arms, the creature rose, surveying the moonlit field with devilish delight.

Free.

The creature was free.

Eons had passed since it had seen the world last, and it was eager to be off. It found the hunt for its bride exhilarating, and it would relish every moment of the chase.

It caught the scent of the human named Samantha and bounded off in pursuit, on and on into endless dark.

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